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The Ice Palace

Somebody asked me how I felt when a job ends.   I had to pause before replying.  I remember when I was younger – so much younger – when the act of leaving a company was a traumatic experience.  The people you had come to share your life with, who had become your family, were about to disappear.  Some of them you would never see again.  For two weeks afterwards I would be mourning the loss of their company and friendship, usually battling an illness that had just been waiting for the defenses to be let down.

Now, however, after all these years, no such sorrow exists at the end of the work, just a rough check to ask myself whether:

a)      I have done the job to the best of my ability?

b)      What I have learnt from it -  if anything?


… and …

c)      Is there someone or some people in the company I want to stay in touch with?  The act of leaving has ceased to be tinged with sadness except if it’s a role and character that I have grown to know and therefore love – as in the case of recent years with Prospero, Jack Worthing and Bottom.

 

 

Looking back on the Philly job, I found that I had indeed played Dick Wagner in Night & Day to the best of my ability.  I had learnt that though he was, in my opinion, written two-dimensionally, I should have battled harder to find deeper layers…to give him depth and a certain hidden depth at that.  I had found that my experience of an American theatre company was extremely positive.  Production values are high and the level of acting is a very good standard – at least here at the Wilma, although I have heard this can differ wildly and is probably more erratic in the more remote areas of the States.  Finally, I found that there were a lot of the cast I would like to stay in touch with.  This may be because there were actors who were close to my age and I have been somewhat been exposed to the youth and energy of Aquila’s base talent.  All in all, Philadelphia was an extremely positive experience.  The role didn’t stretch me, but I did a professional job on him and served the play, which has to be the actor’s main objective. And damn it, I got to meet Tom Stoppard!

  Then of course after the analysis comes the question that you have been trying to ignore like the Siren’s Song on a rushing wind  -

“What the hell are you doing next?” 

Always a good question.  I actually didn’t have a clue.  There had been a tentative approach made by Aquila to help in the exploration of their next project, Utopia Parkway, but the rest was a blank, a cipher.

My main concern however was not the work, but the move back to New York.  Moving anywhere of course is a major stressful event, but for me was added a day of logistics, timing and firsts.  I had subletted an extremely cute but very small studio in Gramercy Park.  The apartment boasted a Murphy Bed.  This is a bed that folds up into the wall into what looks like a closet, and then just pulls down when needed, thereby immediately doubling the size of the space.  The studio also had a working brick fireplace.  These two features added to its midtown location from where one can easily walk to most places made it irresistible.  The size of it meant however that my stuff – and there seemed to be an awful lot of stuff – was not going to fit and therefore the weeks leading up to the move I had made a couple of trips back to New York and managed to secure a storage space located at the bottom of Chinatown and with a wonderful view over Brooklyn Bridge.  However that still left the small matter of transportation.  I was unable to secure the services of my friend Jay, who had brought me down to Philly back in the summer.  I had to therefore bite the bullet and rent a car.  No problem you would have thought… except this would mean not only my first rental car in this country, but also driving through New York City -  a daunting prospect.  So the plan was to drive to New York mid-morning after the morning rush and drop off the majority of the luggage and stuff at the storage space, then drop off the car… and eventually end up at my friend’s David Delgrosso’s apartment, as the Gramercy park studio wasn’t available for a couple of more days.  It seemed daunting with all sorts of hidden dangers that could rear up and hit me in the face, but unbelievably all went incredibly smoothly.  The car managed to take all the belongings and the trip up was made in brilliant sunshine, at a leisurely pace and enjoying the autumnal view.

And then New York.  I found that once I had actually negotiated the Holland Tunnel, I was completely at home driving in the city.  I knew my way around -probably more than most visitors - and the grid system made everything incredibly simple.  London is far more difficult and stressful.  Once I realized that everything was going to be alright, I sat back in the drivers’ seat and relaxed and enjoyed being behind the wheel of a car once more.  It’s something I miss.  Mind you, there is absolutely no point in having a car in New York, and if I wanted to go on a trip out I could probably rent or borrow one.  I felt a tangible excitement being back in Manhattan again and with some surprise I recognized that that this was my home now.

 

I had a couple of days to fill before moving into Grammercy Park.  This gave me the opportunity to visit Mark Pow in Boston.  Mark had been on The Tempest tour with me and is now touring the country in the Lion King.  He is playing Zazu, the King’s helper, who is a bird of some description.  I journeyed once more on the Chinatown bus, which again was very simple and accessible…and cheap!  On arriving in Boston I spent the day having a look around the city.  For some reason it’s one of the few places that I hadn’t visited on any of the Aquila tours.  The city has an interesting historical energy.  I suppose it’s similar to Philly in that regard. One of America's oldest cities (founded in 1630), Boston feels one of its most European.

The first recorded voyage from Europe to the area was an exploration of the New England coast by Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. In 1605 and 1606 French explorer Samuel de Champlain charted the waters along the coast. In 1614 English captain John Smith explored Massachusetts Bay and noted the well-populated Native American villages. Europeans who came to the area introduced diseases that decimated the Native American population. In 1616 and 1617 the tribes in the Boston area were devastated by an epidemic with mortality rates as high as 80 or 90 percent. The dramatic loss of population crippled indigenous society and contributed to the destruction of the native culture of New England.

Boston became the cradle of American independence from Britain in the late 18th century. Protestors stirred up anti-British sentiment after the British government approved a series of taxes on colonists to pay the cost of the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Boston merchants and workers staunchly resisted the Stamp Act of 1765, which required the purchase of a government stamp for all legal documents and newspapers. The colonists viewed the act as “taxation without representation.”

To counter opposition to the Stamp Act, the British government ordered a military occupation of Boston in 1768. In 1770 British soldiers fired on a mob and killed five citizens in what became known as the Boston Massacre. Aggravating the situation further, patriots protested a tax on tea by tossing shiploads of tea into the harbor in 1773 in what came to be known as the Boston Tea Party.

Throughout the colonies, people opposed the Tea Act. In most places, they either stored the tea or sent it back, but not in Boston. Led by Samuel Adams, the citizens of Boston would not permit the unloading of three British ships that arrived in Boston in November 1773 with 342 chests of tea. The royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, however, would not let the tea ships return to England until the colonists had paid the duty. On the evening of December 16, 1773, a group of Bostonians, many of them disguised as Native Americans, boarded the vessels and dumped the tea into Boston Harbor. When the news of the Boston Tea Party reached Britain, an outraged Parliament demanded compensation for the tea. After the colonists refused, Parliament passed a series of laws to punish Boston and to make British control over Massachusetts more effective. Known as the Intolerable Acts, the laws closed the port of Boston to trade; curtailed the powers of the Massachusetts assembly and local town meetings; provided for the housing of troops in private houses; and exempted British officials from trial in Massachusetts. These acts further alienated the American colonists and hastened the start of the American Revolution. The British retaliated by closing the port in 1774 and sending more troops to Boston, virtually ensuring a military confrontation. The American Revolution began near Boston soon after Britain closed the port.

 

After wandering through the city center and locating the theatre, I walked up to try and find Emerson College, where David, Jay and others had attended.  I ended up in Beacon Hill.  As the name suggests, it’s a hill above Boston where a beacon was lit to warn the residents of any impending danger.  Beacon Hill is a fascinating, early 19th century neighborhood with narrow streets. The row houses are nearly all in brick in Federal, Victorian and Georgian styles. The area is exceptionally well-preserved, with well maintained houses, low-traffic streets paved with cobblestones and gas-lit street lighting. An ideal surrounding for the urban romantic.

Until the end of the 18th century, it was a pasture owned by painter John Singleton Copley. He sold it to the Mount Vernon Proprietors, to which the architect Charles Bulfinch belonged. They designed quality residences on the south slope. Halfway the 19th century, Beacon Hill was almost fully developed. It had become a very popular district, especially the south slope which attracted some wealthy Bostonians.  Today it has once more attracted the wealthy.  I was intrigued to see helicopters circling above and the place overrun with police.  Eventually things clicked into place and I realized that this was the home of John Kerry, the would-be president, who had narrowly failed to wrestle the presidency from George W. Bush.  Boston had been hoping to throw its second huge celebration party of the year;  the first one being the Red Sox winning the World Series.  It seemed in the end that Middle America was too concerned about “the war on terror” and a new face on the scene.  The country ended up being split down the middle.  So my predictions about the war in Iraq being a negative for Bush proved to be ultimately groundless.

Before the show, I made a quick trip backstage to see Mark, who had a blue face… that being his makeup for his part.  The theatre, the Boston Opera House, had been especially renovated.  The present day Opera House opened its doors on October 29, 1928, then named the B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre, built to honor "the father of vaudeville" by his business partner Edward Albee. The theatre became part of a national circuit of grand theatres, built to support vaudeville in its prime. Vaudeville soon declined in popularity with the advent of motion pictures. The theatre went through many transitions throughout its history, becoming a venue for first-run movies, concerts, and Opera. It was in 1978, when the theatre was home to The Opera House Company of Boston, that the name was changed to The Opera House.  Now after a $38 million restoration it was back to its former magnificent 2000 seat splendor.

 

Out front I met up with Giselle, my partner in good old-fashioned hell-raising, on that wonderful debauched evening in New Orleans in 2001.  We ordered champagne, Giselle being a lady of refined taste.  We then entered the theatre and sat back to watch the show.  The opening of the Lion King is one the best beginnings of a show in Broadway history and is worth the price of admission alone.  If I wanted to introduce a child to the magic that is theatre, then this is the show I would choose.  It allows us to use our imaginations whilst all the time not trying to hide the theatricality of its origins.  Mark was absolutely tremendous as Zazu.  Not just his acting, but his movement, which has always been exquisite.  I felt very proud… or full of proudfullness as my mother would say…Why?  I have no idea.  May be it’s a sense that we have shared a history in him arriving at such a wonderful stage in his career.  I don’t know.  May be it was just pure pleasure in him playing such a wonderful part and for a company that gives him security over a year.  I think actors on the whole do rejoice in others good fortune.

 

And talking of good fortune…

 

I received a phone call from my agent.  She was her usual professional persona, but there was a hint of excitement as she told me that I had an audition for the NBC series Law and Order.  Law and Order is shot all around New York and has been one of the top TV series in the States for the last number of years.  I was going up for a defense attorney.  My initial reaction was how I should sound.  I have known English actors over here who disguise their Englishness and go in with an American accent.  I was still unsure when I met the casting director alone in her small office down at Chelsea Studios, right on the Hudson on the West side.  But as she spoke to me, I decided to stick with being myself and trying to give a decent reading.  A couple of days later I was called in again.  This time I was reading for a hip-hop record producer.  I didn’t know much about the part except that it was a guest lead.  It was early evening when I was shown into a room with three men and the casting lady from two days earlier. The men in the room were the director, producer and writer. Paris Barclay the director looked at me quizzically.  I was nervous but read competently.  Paris was black and I felt uneasy that I didn’t know the first thing about rap music except Eminem, and the way I related it to Shakespeare’s verse when I was teaching. I ventured a lighthearted remark and then I immediately wondered if it was a mistake.  Auditions are so strange.  I still don’t know how to do them.  How am I supposed to act?  I’m an actor, so I am only really engaged when I have a character to work on.

“I’m not sure there any English hip-hop record producers in New York?” I said jokingly.

Paris smiled.

“There are now.”

I wasn’t sure how serious he was, and for the next few days I dared hardly to think about the possibility, but then Honey phoned.  There is nothing so glorious for an actor I think as hearing he has been chosen for a part that he really wants.  Honey and the rest of the agency were just as excited.  I was their first guest lead on the series.  The job took me over two weeks and paid the same amount as the whole of my time at the Wilma…and all before Christmas.  I suddenly had the feeling that I was being looked after.  I said thank you in my own way; A trip to St Patrick’s.  As I have said before, this is not out of any Christian religious duty, but as a way of connecting with my own spirituality and using the energy of the place as a conduit.  I’m not sure I can even explain it properly; it’s just an instinct of connecting with my own ‘holy spirit’ and the energies that surround me.  It’s funny I know, but I still believe in magic. I love it when things happen which are too much of a coincidence to happen accidentally, which are so out of the ordinary, you know that something else is involved…  reassuringly so, I have always found.

 

A week later I found myself on set in the famous court of Law and Order.  I have learned through hard experience that when going into a long-running series as a guest actor that you have to have your shit together, otherwise the regulars and the whole damned machine that drives it will leave you gasping in the dust.  I didn’t have an idea of a character as such.  I gave him power and authority which I felt he must have to have reached this high.  The rest was relying on instinct as I had no idea about the job he had.

I needn’t have worried.  The regular cast was generous and very welcoming throughout.  Paris made frequent jokes about me in front of everybody and kept giving me close-ups...  I expect that they haven’t had many English guys on the show.  I got to film at the Hit Factory in New York which has catered to some of the world's premiere artists. Its studios are the birthplace of many seminal albums. Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, John Lennon's Double Fantasy, and Paul Simon's Graceland were all created at the Hit Factory. Top artists such as Nelly, Destiny's Child, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and U2 favor the studios for recording.   We filmed in the CEO’s office.  On his desk he had three large iron monkeys hearing, seeing and speaking no evil.  We had no idea what they meant but had a lot of fun in speculating.

 

Another scene, which eventually and sadly was cut, was with Sam Waterston in a restaurant.  He is an actor I have long-admired, so I was a little put out that he didn’t even say hello.  In the end I introduced myself.

“Have we worked together?” he asked.

When I replied that we hadn’t, he relaxed.

“I’m sorry.  I thought that I knew you.”

I then understood that he been racking his brains trying to remember my name.  This happens frequently.  I have a face that people think they know.  I like to think that it’s because that they have had a premonition of my future fame!

 

On one special day we began filming in a penthouse on 67th and Columbus.  Being on the top floor enabled us to see all the way downtown and across both the East and West sides across to the river.  Throughout the filming I was dressed in Dolce and Gambini suits and Georgio Amani shirts and shoes.  I have never worn such expensive clothes in my life.  The suit I was wearing this day cost $1500; the whole outfit came to over $2,000.  It certainly gives you a different way of walking and a casual confidence that you are looking your best.  I have resisted the urge to dye my hair except for certain roles as Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest.  It now has interesting grey highlights.  So with the black suits and silk shirts and the silver highlights I looked like an aging panther - A rather short panther, compared to the regular actors who all seemed to be over 6 foot, including Elizabeth Rhome, the beautiful attorney who assists Sam Waterston’s character.  Although the penthouse had an amazing view over the top of Manhattan, I wouldn’t have wanted to live there.  The owner came by briefly to watch a bit of the filming.  I heard from one of the crew that he was not going to be the owner much longer.  The mind immediately started whirling around several possible scenarios over his background or possible demise.

Later that day, I found myself filming in the middle of Times Square.  The opening of the episode begins with people arriving to Music Awards Ceremony.  The usual trappings had been set.  So, stretch limos, arc lights, red carpet and paparazzi were all in evidence.  Being the opening, there were no regular cast members involved. It was me and two other guest actors walking out for a scene on the red carpet.  Paris told us that he was going to do the whole scene in one shot.

“As you might imagine people, this costs us quite a bit of money.  So, don’t worry, but I want you to know that every time you mess up you’re costing us thousands and thousands of dollars.”

The camera was up on a crane and swooped down as we came out to the lights, the paparazzi, and the crowds of extras mixed in with curious onlookers. It was incredibly cold, and because of the complicated nature of the shot and the amount of people involved we were there for four hours trying to put it in the can.  But despite the cold, I was euphoric. It was an amazing feeling. From being in theatre for so many years, I was now stepping out in a major US television series at the ‘Crossroads of the World’.

If I never work again in film or television, this particular memory will always live with me.

 

On my final day of filming back in the studios, it was Elizabeth’s last day on the series.  She had been with Law and Order for four seasons.  She was leaving her role as Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn midseason to pursue a movie career. She will be seen in the upcoming film “Miss Congeniality II” with Sandra Bullock.

Sam gave a wonderful speech describing her generosity of spirit and her attentiveness to actors coming on to the show.  I looked around at the crew.  I had forgotten how wonderful it was to be part of a film crew.  The same characters were still there.  It doesn’t matter how many crews I have worked with, there always seems to be a similarity in the characteristics of the individual specialized jobs.  It wasn’t long before I was accepts and became part of the team.  These guys worked hard too.  They would start at am and go through to 10pm or later.  One night they worked until three o’clock in the morning. 

As my filming ended, I thought I had made a rather slow start, but by the end was becoming more comfortable in front of the camera once more.  I had done an enormous amount of film/television work in my early twenties before returning to my theatrical roots.  I felt now that I was ready to do a lot more filming.

I hope the opportunity might present itself here in the States.

 

A few weeks later the program went out.  I watched nervously, but found that apart from one or two moments – a lack of life in the eyes, or too much blinking, I was happy with the performance. Ah ,we are our own worst critics! It caused great excitement, not only in my homeland, but around the States. I was very touched that so many bothered not only to watch but to write and tell me how much fun they had seeing me on the show.  My biggest thrill out of the whole thing was coming to understand that friends, and friends of friends, and friends' family got such a kick out of seeing me on there.  I really felt that they were all there with me, and it was a good excuse for a drink, a laugh and a celebration that good things can happen in life.

 

I had my first experience of living in Manhattan.  I have always been in Brooklyn, but this time I sublet a tiny, but terribly cute studio apartment in Grammercy Park.  The area is akin to Bayswater or Kensington in London.  It has that air of affluence and old money.  It took a while to get used to, especially as I could walk everywhere if I wanted.  The apartment though small had a wonderful Murphy bed.  A Murphy bed slides out of a cabinet in the wall.  This one had inlaid small reading lights inlaid into the cabinet ceiling.  Best of all was its working fireplace, especially as this was the Festive season.  I have always loved real fireplaces form previous lives, and it was a joy again to light a fire, grab a glass of wine and a good book and wile away an afternoon or evening.

 

In December the Aquila touring company came to New York to perform Twelfth Night.  It was full of that invention and imagination that first drew me to the company.  The whole company was superb.  They only did four performances, but hopefully it will come in for a longer run sometime in the future.  

 

Also in December Bill Pullman did a reading with Aquila.  I was going to be in it, but the filming dates of Law & Order were changed and I was unable to go.  Luckily I got the chance to meet Mr. Pullman at an in-house Aquila brainstorming session.  I found him utterly charming.

 

A personal disaster happened.  I suddenly couldn't boot up my laptop.  After some futile attempts to resuscitate, I took it to the doctors who pronounced that the hard drive had died.  I, of course, hadn't backed up anything.  I'm learning the "hard drive" way!

 

I’ve been meaning to say this for a while…

The Beatles are still a huge part of American culture. 

I know in the UK we acknowledge them, but not on the same reverential and emotional level that I have found here.  It’s funny to think that John Lennon was shot in New York.  I have never felt in danger in this city.  I know though when violence happens here, it’s extreme.  I hear that people are getting mugged for their I-pods in the streets. I better be careful.  I received one for Christmas.  They are a life-changing phenomenon. I suppose the trick is to wear different headphones.

 

My first Christmas in Manhattan was marred when I was struck down by a vicious flu bug that did the rounds of the city.  I was in bed for a week and didn’t really recover for another two weeks after that.  I seldom get ill, but when I do it seems to come with a vengeance.  Any self-pity I felt was blown away by the Tsunami disaster in Asia on Boxing Day.  How precious and precarious our lives are.  The tragedy is monumental. Other words stop in my throat. 

The readiness is all.

 

 

I’m now in beautiful apartment up on the border of Washington Heights and Inwood.

Once again I was apprehensive of the move.  This time I was going to be driving a van in the city for the first time. All went pretty smoothly.  I picked up the van without a hitch.  The problem was that I had to double park to load it up in Grammercy Park.  A cop turned up to move me along, which just meant driving around the block a couple of times.  By that time I had managed to pack everything in. The cargo vans are okay to drive as long as you don't have to reverse. 

 Next stop was the storage unit to load the rest of my gear. Finally I could have all my belongings with me.  I have given up the storage space… for now… but who knows?  One day I might have to return again. 

 I then drove carefully up the FDR drive, which basically is the highway that follows the East River.  Because of some confusing driving directions from our online guide,Map Quest, we crossed the river at one point and ended up in the Bronx; however, I managed to get back across and soon we were up in the northern cliffs of Manhattan..  With an incredible piece of luck I managed to park outside the door of my new home. 

 Danielle and Eddie, my landlords, were just finishing their packing.  They are such a nice couple.  They’re off to LA for pilot season.  I do admire their bravery.. 

 

Soon they were gone. 

Deep breath. 

Silence.

I once more looked at the apartment. I had fallen in love with it on first viewing. It was how I remembered. 

It's beautiful. 

Big, for New York. I mean spacious. 

My favorite room is the kitchen, which has colored lights all around the top of the walls.  It is the brightest room in the house and has a desk in it.  So this is where I do most of my work. 

There is a piano in the living-room. The bath is deep. It actually takes time to walk from one end of the apartment to the other.  I have kept the cable television, so I now have over 500 channels.  Flicking through, there were lots of good movies, HBO and BBC America. 

But it's the space…

 

 The space is the prize.  

 

We had our first big snowstorm of the winter.  15 inches fell in 24 hours.  The next day I took a walk in Fort Tryon Park.  It was tremendously cold and breath-takingly beautiful.  It's wonderful the effect snow has on New York. It muffles the sounds, slows down the pace, and the city becomes a serene ice palace glistening on the Hudson River. 

 

 

 I bought my mum and my brother, Robin, webcams for Christmas.  I have successfully had some wonderful video conversations with Robin and even my niece and nephew, Imogen and Zak.  I’m hoping that as soon as Mum gets onto broadband, she might be brave enough to give it a try. My mother continues to be an incredible source of support and inspiration to me.  Thank God for the internet!  How wonderful it is to be able to receive her emails and chat to her through IMs.  She and my step-father George, have given me constant love and support.  I am thankful to have them around… even if it’s long-distance and through the written word.

 

 

My mother would be a falconress,
and she sends me as far as her will goes.
She lets me ride to the end of her curb
where I fall back in anguish.
I dread that she will cast me away,
for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

 

...


Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me,
always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,
at her wrist, and her riding
to the great falcon hunt, and me
flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart
to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet,
straining, and then released for the flight.

My mother would be a falconress,
and I her gerfalcon raised at her will,
from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own
pride, as if her pride
knew no limits, as if her mind
sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

Ah, but high, high in the air I flew.
And far, far beyond the curb of her will,
were the blue hills where the falcons nest.
And then I saw west to the dying sun--
it seemed my human soul went down in flames.

from "Robert Duncan on 'My Mother Would Be a Falconress.'"

I'd rather be in Philadelphia